HC Deb 19 April 1886 vol 305 cc15-6

asked the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, If it is true that in 1878 the Colonial Office sanctioned an expenditure of one million pounds sterling to construct two-thirds, or forty-two miles, of a railway line intended to reach new traffic in the province of Uva, Ceylon, but up to the present the officials at the Colonial Office have declined, in the face of urgent appeals from two Governors and their Executive Councils, annual Memorials from the natives, planters, and merchants, to sanction the half million necessary to construct the remaining one-third, or twenty-five miles, and that, in consequence, the interest on the million pounds sterling cannot be earned?


It is true that in 1878 the then Secretary of State sanctioned an expenditure of £1,000,000 sterling on the line referred to in the Question, on the distinct assurance that it would pay without any regard to its possible extension. The hon. Member is mistaken in supposing that the officials at the Colonial Office, who are simply the servants of the Secretary of State, have ever given any decision on this or any other Colonial matter of business. The late Secretary of State (Sir Frederick Stanley), after giving the matter his most careful consideration, reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that the estimates of the earnings of the proposed extension line would not warrant the cost—estimated at between £18,000 and £19,000 per mile—of constructing it. When I state that between 1877 and 1884 the Revenue of Ceylon fell from over Rs.17,000,000 to Rs.12,500,000, while its debts increased from £1,000,000 sterling to £2,200,000 sterling, and that in such a Colony there are always other important reproductive works claiming attention when such matters are under consideration, the hon. Member will, I am sure, see how impossible it is for the Home Government, with every desire to provide facilities of transport for the planters, to whom the Colony is largely indebted for its prosperity, to sanction projects which cannot be shown to pay interest and provide a Sinking Fund on the amount borrowed for the purpose. I may add that public opinion in the Colony is by no means unanimous on the scheme, and that the two unofficial Members who represent the Native interest on the Council spoke and divided the Legislative Council against it.